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Made by a Fabricista: The Classic Red Coat.

It started snowing in time for me to add atmosphere to my photos!
I am beyond thrilled to write this post!  Over a month ago I spoke with the folks at Fabric Mart and told them that I had made a decision to make a coat for my January make.  I asked if they had any coating fabric coming in to their store, since while I liked a lot of the coating options on the site, they weren't "wowing" me.  They got back to me and told me there was this gorgeous red wool coming in, and sent me a photo of it.  (There are a few yards left in the regular section, but they also have pieces of this brighter red wool from Halston available, too.  You need around 3 yards.)

I was immediately intrigued, but nervous, since red is one of the colors that looks terrible with my skin tone.  The only way red works is if it is a "true red" or a red with a bit of yellow in it (think of a ripened tomato).  And since I have some red in my hair, I was a bit apprehensive there, too, since reds and reddish hair doesn't normally work. 

When I received this wool, though, all thoughts of it not working went out the window.  The red was a "true red," one of the four universally flattering colors (see this for more info on that).  Anyone reading this could try this coat on and find the color works for them.  :-)  Yay!

I had in mind a very particular coat that I wanted to make, but before I decided on it, I did carefully weigh all my options. 

Did I want a double breasted trench coat like this amazing specimen from J. Crew a few years ago

Did I want a double breasted a-line coat like Duchess Kate, Prince William's wife, is wearing here?

Did I want a more modern twist, like this cocoon shaped coat?

I did a lot of ebay and etsy hunting, and while I loved many options, none of them sang to me, and dang it, if I was going to spend hours and hours on this coat, I wanted to ensure it was on something I knew I would love.

One night, I wore this coat out to eat with the family (you can see it on me here).  Though that coat looks nothing like the coat I  made, it did remind me that I needed to look at what I already have, and the patterns I already have, to determine what I would love for years and years to come.

And then it occurred to me that I already had a winner in my closet that I wear and wear again and again, my J. Crew Sybil coat from 2007.

I own it in yellow, and have had this one since January of 2008.  I was lucky to have picked it up for a very good price all those years ago, and literally, every time I wear it, I have people asking me where I got it.  Including my father-in-law and a construction worker.  No joke!  I was poetic about it here at this blog post, if you want more info on it.

I loved it so much in yellow that when I saw it come up in purple (almost a cobalt blue) on ebay for another ridiculously good price, I jumped.  Since color is my favorite thing to wear, I knew I wouldn't shy away from wearing this one out, either!  I speak more to this one here at this blog post.

To make my decision even easier, they also produced this coat in a red.  Kismet!

One thing I did determine, though, is while I love the style of the coat, especially the color, sometimes I wish for a different style bottom, since the original is a more fitted silhouette through the skirt of the coat.

Having decided my inspiration, I got down to picking the absolute perfect match for a pattern.  Turns out I decided on two.  And I somehow successfully married them.  The collar was taken from the McCall's 7024 pattern (without the drawstring and a whole bunch of interfacing to keep it "standing up"), and the rest of the coat was taken from Vogue 8626.  

I was not about to begin this very involved journey without a muslin fitting.  I would say 1/4 of my total time on this project was spent on this muslin.  I figured if I nailed the fit in a non-stretch ugly light tan fabric, then I could definitely make it work in a very pretty, slightly stretchy, felted wool fabric (it does have a bit of a mechanical stretch which surprised me).  (I call it felted as this is the closest descriptor I can give it.  It isn't the crafty felted wool, it just has a similar hand.)

I decided on the size 10 A cup.  I briefly contemplated the 10 B or the 12 A, but as soon as I sewed up the 10 A, it literally fit like a glove.  I often have to sacrifice the upper bodice fit with conventional patterns since I am an A cup and most pattern makers cut for a larger cup size.  This most often manifests itself in wrinkling right above the upper part of my bust, below the clavicle.  It's not unattractive, and no one notices, but I know why it is there.  Given cup size choices do help, and while the fit of this McCall's Lisette top is not perfect without my addition of the padded bra, it is better than the fit I often get when there are no cup size choices.  Lesson learned.  Apparently A cup/princess seams mean I will get the best fit for my body.

The skirt portion of this coat is very generous, but because I wanted to ensure the pleats fell properly, I graded out from a 10 waist to a size 12 right at the pockets (they are in the side seam).  I didn't technically need to cut a 12, but they back does fall very nicely on the finished coat.

The pleating at the back princess seams is okay, but I didn't want it favoring the side towards the center box pleat, so I ended up using the same markings, but turning the pleats into another set of box pleats, so my back has a very prominent center box pleat, and two smaller box pleats.

I also knew that a 1/2 shoulder pad was the best choice for this pattern as the look without the pads was less than perfect, just a touch of wrinkling at the shoulder.  Again nothing that anyone would notice, but I would, and can't have that.  ;-)

The collar, btw, because it is a McCall's pattern, and I used its sister Vogue for the coat, perfectly lined up at the notch points.  I don't know if I was lucky, or if all of their coats use this base notching system.  Regardless, I am very pleased with how well the two worked together.

After the tedium of muslin making was done, it was time to get all the pieces cut for the coat!  Obviously I cut the fabric, but I also cut quite a bit of interfacing, as well.

Technically the pattern only calls for interfacing at the front piece that attaches to the front facing, and they only call for fusible interfacing.  (I guess that is their way of keeping the Very Easy rating, but phooey on that, even kept "very easy," this pattern as is calls for full linings, pockets, princess seams, and the like, I think "very easy" is "very inaccurate.")

I decided to try and keep the tailoring of my coat as close to traditional as possible.  I actually sewed in hair canvas on the front pieces (you'll see that next), but to save a bit of time, I chose to buy some fusible hair canvas for the back pieces that I knew needed to be interfaced as well.  (The back and shoulder seams get a lot of wear and tear from putting on and taking off the jacket and need the extra support.)  The back of this coat is very fitted, and I wanted to ensure the natural stretch of the wool was not lost after applying the interfacing, so I cut all the back interfacing pieces on the bias, which you see in the photos above.  I then cut the pieces to fit the back without the seams, because I knew that those seams would be SUPER thick if I didn't get the interfacing out of there.  (I wouldn't be able to grade them after since they were fused, as well.)  I checked the stretch after the fuse, and it was perfect, just a touch of stretch, which means the coat gives a little in the back when putting the coat on and taking it off.

I also placed the interfacing of the collar (the non-pleated part) on the bias, too.  Though I don't need the stretch there, it gives that portion some flexibility, which I figured I might need when shaping it on the coat.

Above is a collage of all the action under the lining, which I am glad never to see again, lol.  It took a long time to properly baste all the batiste underlining to the side fronts and back skirt.  I also sewed some batiste onto the front facing, just in case.  Don't know that it was necessary, but I figured if it was, and I didn't, I would be made at myself for not doing it.

I also basted in the sew in hair canvas on the fronts, but unlike the fusible interfacing, I DID NOT apply it on the bias.  I want to make sure the front is as stable as possible since that is where the buttons/buttonholes would be placed.  The structure through the front is very important, which is why even in "Very Easy" Vogue, they make sure you at least interface that bit.

I also added some woven fusible interfacing to the front hem part of the fronts, and the upper shoulders/chest area of the side fronts.  Keeping the upper part of the coat as stable and structured as possible was my goal, and I knew the batiste wouldn't be enough to support the upper chest through the side fronts.  The hem portion was to allow the structure to continue in the front, but I knew that the garment didn't need as much structure right there, so I definitely didn't sweat it when I discovered that my yard of hair canvas wasn't long enough (I needed 40 inches from neck to hem, and had around 37 inches).

Part of why I did all this was because I watched both Steffani Lincecum's classes on tailoring (the jacket one is here and the coat one is here), but also because I own a handmade coat from the 1960s that was based on a Vogue Couturier pattern (Vogue 1472 seen here).  Someone was offering it for 99 cents, with $10 in shipping, so I put a bid in thinking that maybe I'll get it, and crazily enough, I did win it.  I did NOT buy it to wear it, but to keep it as a piece to see what seamstresses in the years before fusibles and automatic buttonholes did.  This coat is fully underlined with proper hair canvas (sew-in, of course), lined with a flannel-backed satin, hemmed with bias strips and hand sewn, and has little weights to keep the hem weighted.  It is a marvel.  It must have taken that person a LONG time to make.  I could wear the coat, it fits, but I just sit and stare at it, to be honest.  :-)

Although I recognize that princess seams really do fit me best, I HATE sewing them, because I always think I am doing it wrong, and it stresses me out to cut into the side that is shorter to fit the side that is longer.

Having said that, an A cup means that the sides are nearly equal (I know, I know, lolololol), so I only had to do the most minute of cutting.  I still sweated it, and on the back there is more of a curve (why!?!), I definitely had to be very precise.  I took a lot of time and the results are awesome, so do the same.  It is worth the extra energy properly marking the fabric (or in this case the interfacing) to ensure everything lines up just so. 

There is also an overabundance of topstitching in this garment.  The results were really nice on the princess seams throughout, though I had a few wobbles that I had to correct, but once I moved onto the heavier back waist seam topstitching, the results were less than stellar.  Though I recognize why the topstitching is needed there, I had to cover it up (which you'll see later).

I ended up NOT topstitching the placket of the coat or the sleeve hems.  I managed, through very careful and abundant pressing to get the lower fabric to turn to the inside fully, which meant that the upper fabric was all that is seen from the outside of the garment.  It took a long time, but again, prefer that to my dodgy stitching over very thick seams.

Here are four things that I think will be helpful for you if you take on this coat (especially in a very thick fabric).

1. Changed the pleat's direction from favoring the center back box pleat to two additional box pleats.  I prefer this design.

2. I did not add a center box pleat in the lining.  This means, of course, that I can't hem the coat to the lining, but that's fine.  I left the hems free and plan to add thread stays/anchor tabs to keep the two together.

3. Like I mentioned above, the topstitching on the back waist was sad.  I kept in a fairly straight line, but the variation in stitching depending on the thickness of the fabric below it was varied from tight to regular.  My walking foot was not up for the challenge.  I do realize it would have been best for me hand stitch it to look like this, but all 20/20 hindsight.

4. To make up for the big glaring mistake, I decided to draft a Martingale belt for the back.  I didn't know this had a term until I was looking up vintage patterns for this post, but quite a few of them said "martingale belt" at back, and I was "aha!"  It is defined as a loose half belt or strap placed on the back of a garment, such as a coat or jacket.  Good to know.  I did a very simple draft, basically two big rectangles sewn at the top, flipped in, pressed, and then topstitched (with a lot less dodgy stitching because many less layers) at the bottom.  I then cut off the excess fabric, and because this is a dense felted wool, it does not fray.  Success!

Above are some of my favorite bits of this coat. 

1. Although the belt was added as a mistake "cover," I far prefer this back to the way it is drafted.  It gives the back a nice presence.  Highly recommend everyone add their own Martingale belt!  I also love the back pleats, those add such femininity to an otherwise austere coat.  The back collar is also very lovely, must remember to wear my hair up to show it off!

2. Speaking of the collar, although I knew it was a good match to my original Sybil coat (and these Bella jackets, also made by J. Crew), I needed to make sure I was on the right path.  Thanks to Sue, a fellow Fabricista, I found ONE review of this McCall's 7024 pattern, and it was hers.  After seeing it, I knew I would be in a good place when making my own.  :-)

3. The pocket is drafted to have a main fabric bottom portion and a lining top portion.  The floral peeking out is so cute.  You can't see it unless you look, but these are the details that show that you spent a lot of time and thought on the garment.

4.  I love the princess seams.  I hate making them, but I LOVE them!  The buttons, btw, are from Dill buttons.  They have a bumpy rocky "outer" face, but when I flipped them, they had a smooth, variegated face that suited the look of the coat.  I had bought buttons to replicate the J. Crew Sybil coat buttons, but I didn't want to be that derivative. 

My husband said I should flip the coat inside out and wear it like this since the lining is really special.  This is a poly charmeuse with stretch from my stash and the red florals in the lining are an exact match for the red wool.

I was able to attach the lining in a similar fashion to the directions.  I was able to control the beast that is sewing the facing to the fronts, but just.  I also had the beast of sewing in the set-in sleeves, so I knew that even though I might be able to set-in the lining sleeves, I would be more sane to ignore that option and follow the directions properly.  The bonus of doing the sleeves the way I have done them here is that I was able to hem the lining and sleeve together and it looks SO much better than any sleeve hem I have ever done (this jacket and this jacket).  I may have to move all of my jacket and coat making sleeve directions to this one.  It requires me to slip stitch the sleeve lining in place, but honestly, it was easy, looked pretty good, and could be done while watching reality tv.  Yes!

I may not follow my husband's advice of wearing it inside out, but I'll show off my lining to whomever asks, though.  ;-)

Closed, opened, hands in pocket, turned around, or to the side.  I LOVE my coat.

Especially the collar.  And the color.  ;-)

Enjoy your winter sewing adventures!

~Dina, My Superfluities.


  1. SPEECHLESS! It's absolutely stunning. The color, that collar(!!!), the fit...all just done so well! You will get a lot of wear out of this one for years to come!

  2. Beautiful! It looks fabulous! I love it. Your detailed instructions makes me want to try and make a coat. Thank you for sharing all the details and photos.

  3. Dina, this is STUNNING!!!! WOW!!! I just love it and now you will have a BEAUTIFUL coat to wear for years to come!!! WOW!!!

  4. Wonderful This is masterfully done!

  5. Perfection! This is why I love sewing! The red is gorgeous and all that interfacing/stabilizing on the inside is great to see! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Beautiful coat. Excellent and inventive workmanship.

  7. What a fantastic coat! You did an amazing job with this. I really like the addition of the back belt, and the collar from the other pattern is a nice touch. Enjoy wearing it for decades to come!

  8. Simply gorgeous! You did an excellent job!


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